PINCKNEYVILLE, Ill. — Sixty-six years after he was killed in the Korean War, a 19-year-old southern Illinois man is coming home.
The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan reports that the remains of Army Corporal Vernon Douglas Presswood will be flown to St. Louis then taken to Pinckneyville for burial on December 3.
The burial will be the last chapter of a story of uncertainty and unanswered questions for a family that never had a funeral service for the teenager because they never knew exactly what happened to him.
“I didn’t think I would ever hear from them,” Presswood’s sister, Phyllis McGee said of government officials charged with identifying missing soldiers.
Presswood was a member of the Heavy Mortar Company, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. He was among some 2,500 U.S. soldiers and 700 Korean soldiers assembled into the 31st Regimental Combat Team that was deployed east of North Korea’s Chosin Reservoir in December 1950. There, according to the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Team, he was killed in battle with Chinese forces.
Days later, the Army evacuated about 1,500 wounded service members, while the rest were either captured or killed in enemy territory. Presswood’s unit could not account for him and he was reported missing in action. His name never showed up on any prisoner of war lists. On the last day of 1953, the Army declared him dead.
The job of finding and identifying American service members whose bodies remained north of the Korean Demilitarized Zone after the war was difficult, according to the Defense Department. In 1954, under an agreement between the United Nations Command and North Korea, some human remains were returned, but Presswood’s remains weren’t among them.
That is the way things stood until 2001, when recovery teams, with information provided by two Korean witnesses, excavated a site on the eastern bank of the reservoir and discovered possible human remains of at least seven people.
Scientists conducted a variety of tests, collected evidence, conducted DNA analysis, and compared the DNA to samples that McGee and a nephew provided. This week, POW/MIA agency publicly announced that some of the remains were those of Presswood.
McGee said she is thankful that her brother will be buried in the family plot near loved ones. But the answers to questions that went for decades unanswered also brought something else.
“I missed him for years and years and years and years,” she said. “And now, I’m missing him all over again.”